The women’s soccer team is loaded with veteran talent and ready to make good on the Ivy League title that slipped away in 2009.
“Our goal is obviously to try to win the Ivy League championship,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “We’re hoping to have a chance to win the title and try to have a shot in the season to control our own destiny.”
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The Elis open their 2010 season this weekend with a pair of home games against No. 16 Penn State and Illinois. Yale returns to the pitch after posting a 10–6 record overall last year, with a 5–2 mark in the Ivy League marred only by losses to Columbia and archrival Harvard. The Bulldogs finished second in the conference, narrowly losing a bid for the championship when an overtime win by Harvard against Columbia on the final day of Ivy play gave the Crimson sole possession of the league crown.
The season marked a drastic turnaround from Yale’s performance in 2008, when the squad finished the season 2–4–1 in the conference — tied with Dartmouth for sixth place.
Many of last year’s key players will be back in action this fall.
“Things have been going well in practice — everyone is getting along with each other,” said forward Mary Kubiuk ’13, who tallied six points last season. “We’re all going for the same goal, which is to win the Ivy League championship.”
Team captain and forward Becky Brown ’11 begins her senior year with 25 career goals, putting her just 14 short of the record held by Elizabeth Traver’84. Brown’s 2009 showing earned her the Ivy League Player of the Year title, as she racked up 13 goals and 30 points to lead Yale in both categories.
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Meredith said he is excited to have Brown return and hopes she will post similar numbers this year. Brown, for her part, said she is just focusing on competing as she always would.
“I realize that people have high expectations for me for the season, but I’m really not thinking about that,” she said.“I’m just going to go into the games and play my game how I normally play.”
Returning forwards Kristen Forster ’13, Miyuki Hino ’12 and Kubiuk will also buoy the Bulldog offense. Forster tallied a team-leading nine assists last year in addition to scoring two game-winning goals as she finished second behind Brown in team points. Forster was also named one of two Ivy League Rookies of the Year, along with Princeton defender Alison Nabatoff.
Hino recorded the second-most goals on the team in 2009, with four, and had three assists as well for 11 points total.
The Elis also return a number of midfielders, including veterans Kate Macauley ’11 and Megan Ashforth ’11, who together have 75 starting appearances under their belts.
“I think we have a lot of experience coming back up top and in the midfield,” Hino said. “That’s always kind of what you have to go back to.”
But the Blue have much less experience in the back after losing a number of defenders to graduation, such as team captain Sophia Merrifield ’10, Hannah Smith ’10 and Caitlin Collins ’10. Lauren Mathy ’13 and Torrey Leroy ’13 both return this season, but the defensive squad will rely heavily on contributions from freshmen — particularly newcomers Juliann Jeffrey ’14 and Katie Underwood ’14.
“Our back four are so young that they’d probably still get caught in a rated-R movie,” Meredith joked.
Kubiuk said the Bulldogs have concentrated on fitness throughout preseason, noting that a pitfall of last season’s team was the tendency to lose a game in the final 20 minutes.
“At the end we’d give up an easy goal because we were tired or something, so the focus of this preseason has been on fitness and playing a full 90 minutes,” she said.
The Bulldogs’ success this season will also hinge on the health of their 22-person roster. Injuries plagued the squad last year — hitting especially hard toward the end of the season. In late October, the team had only 16 healthy field players to draw from.
Meredith said the team appears mostly in good shape at the moment, with “nothing major, just a couple of little knick-knack injuries.” The one seriously injured player on the team is defender Alana Gebhart ’12, who Meredith said tore her ACL on the first day of practice.
“We should be OK right now,” Meredith said. “We just can’t afford any more [injuries].”
As for this weekend, Hino and Meredith both said Penn State and Illinois will bring stiff competition to the field.
Meredith described both teams as athletic, competitive and potential NCAA Tournament teams. Still, he added that facing such tough squads will allow his team to identify and correct weaknesses before taking on the season’s first Ivy opponent.
“I think it’s going to be like going from kindergarten to AP classes in high school,” Meredith said of the weekend’s line-up. “It’s going to be something for us …we’ve got to compete and get used to the speed of play.”
Kickoff against Penn State is slated for 7 p.m. Friday at Reese Stadium. The Elis take on Illinois Sunday at noon.